Mobile app development tools: A buyer's guide
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PhoneGap Build, a mobile app development tool from Adobe, is a software platform used for the creation of cross-platform mobile applications for Android, Apple iOS and Windows devices, among others.
PhoneGap Build is a cloud-based version of Adobe's open source PhoneGap mobile application development platform, which is based off of the Apache Cordova framework. Apache Cordova is an open source set of device APIs that allow developed applications to access specific, native device functions across a variety of device platforms.
Using these available Cordova APIs, as well as available cross-platform plug-ins, the Adobe mobile app development tool allows developers to build and code applications using CSS3, HTML5 and Java Web languages. This allows developers to avoid having to code multiple, platform-specific applications. These Web languages are hosted locally in the app and are present in multiple device platforms, thus the reason they can be utilized. This means that rather than using multiple native software development kits (SDKs) -- such as Android SDK, Windows SDK and Xcode for iOS -- developers can instead use a single codebase to create an app that functions across multiple platforms.
APIs and plug-ins hold key to PhoneGap's functionality
Once developers complete the code for their applications -- and have saved them as a .zip or single index .html file -- the file can be uploaded to PhoneGap Build, which then converts this code into a functional application using the cross-platform APIs and plug-ins. These APIs and plug-ins ultimately hold the key to PhoneGap's cross-platform development ability.
PhoneGap Build significantly cuts down development and implementation timelines by allowing developers to focus their efforts on building the best application possible without worrying about having to replicate the application multiple times to work on varying operating systems. This in turn allows apps to be published quickly to places such as the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
To aid in the development process, PhoneGap Build has several unique features to support developers. The most unique of these features is Hydration. Building an application with this tool enabled allows future updates to the application to be sent directly to the users' device without needing to download updates from a centralized location -- i.e., an app store. This tool is helpful for application testing and end-user experience purposes once the app is live.
Continuing with testing, the free companion software PhoneGap Developer App can be installed on a developer's device -- available for Android, iOS and Windows devices. Using it in conjunction with PhoneGap Build allows developers to preview and test their created apps on-device to ensure proper appearance and functionality.
PhoneGap features built-in debugging tool
The Adobe mobile app developer tool also features a built-in debugging tool that can be enabled via its Settings tab. When an application is uploaded to the platform with debugging enabled, a Debug button appears. By also utilizing PhoneGap Developer App, this button opens a webpage on the device, which allows users to communicate with the app as it runs. From here, developers can see any reported errors in real time and quickly correct them using a number of easily manipulated editing and repair functions.
Larger development teams will find Build's ability to assign roles and add team members quite useful. Collaborators and their roles can be changed on a project-by-project basis.
PhoneGap Build is available through both free and enhanced paid service plans. Both the free offering and paid offerings provide unlimited open source app creation, unlimited users and collaborators, access to core Apache Cordova plug-ins, and access to third-party plug-ins. The free service allows for a maximum application size of 50 MB and offers one private app, which means the app's source code is hosted privately on a GitHub repository.
Adobe offers enhanced services in two versions
The mobile app development tool's enhanced services are available through one of two mediums. The first is a monthly plan, offering 25 private apps, a maximum app size of 100 MB and the ability to upload plug-ins -- in addition to the shared options listed above. This plan starts at $9.99 per month.
The second enhanced option comes in the form of an Adobe Creative Cloud membership. This plan offers 25 private apps, a maximum app size of 1 GB and the ability to upload plug-ins. Again, this is also in addition to the shared options listed above. Costs for this option reflect pricing for Creative Cloud, which varies depending on the membership level chosen.
AEM Apps offers developer-friendly approach to development
PhoneGap Build functions can be found as part of Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) Apps in Marketing Cloud. The real draw of AEM Apps is its developer- and marketer-friendly approach to application development. Its aim is to make app development, and its associated processes, easier and more accessible to those unfamiliar with the process. AEM Apps does this by offering functions for app development, app management, app marketing and app optimization, creating a user experience that covers both the pre- and post-development activities.
PhoneGap Build is suited for use by companies of all sizes. Utilizing it as part of Marketing Cloud is likely best for mid-sized companies and large enterprises also interested in lifecycle application management. The software functions on all major operating systems due to its software as a service nature. The most recent version of the PhoneGap software is 3.7, which utilizes the latest version of Cordova, 5.1.1. The most current version of AEM Apps is 6.1.
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